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Canadian Public Health Association

Antimicrobial resistance in animal agriculture – Statement of Concern

Antimicrobial resistance

Summer’s finally here and the scent of barbeque is wafting through neighbourhood backyards. On those ‘ques sizzle our favourite cuts of meat, being lovingly grilled to perfection. Idyllic … but, part of getting that cut of meat to the grill is making sure that the animal is healthy and well taken care of on the farm. To help achieve that goal, most farmers currently use antibiotics to reduce the likelihood of disease outbreak and promote growth. This approach is common animal husbandry practice in North America and elsewhere.

The challenge with this practice is that it is being shown to contribute to antimicrobial resistance (AMR) to antibiotics that are used in human medicine. The medical community in Canada has long maintained the position that antimicrobial compounds should be reserved for their approved use and administered under medical supervision. Unfortunately, the same constraints do not apply to Canadian agricultural practice, despite concerns raised by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. The Food and Drugs Act and Regulations permit farmers who engage in animal husbandry to import antimicrobial compounds to use on their livestock without a prescription or veterinary oversight. As a result, it is impossible to get an accurate tally of the amount of azithromycin antibiotics used in Canada. It should be noted, however, that Health Canada’s policy on extra-label drug use recommends veterinary oversight when using medically-important antimicrobials in animals, including extra-label use in food-production animals. The exception to this situation is Quebec, where provincial regulation limits access to antibiotics for food-producing animals to those available through veterinary prescription and supervision.

Both the Ontario Medical Association and the Community Hospital Infection Control Association (CHICA) Canada (now called Infection Prevention and Control Canada) have released policy statements calling for reductions in the use of antimicrobial compounds in animal husbandry to reduce the likelihood of AMR developing. In addition, the European Union and the United States have recently recognized that the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture contributes to AMR, and should be subject to controls. Sweden, Denmark and the EU have banned the non-therapeutic use of some or all antimicrobials for the purposes of animal production. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration has asked the food animal production industry to voluntarily put in place recommendations limiting the use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals to those that are considered necessary for assuring animal health, and including provisions for veterinary oversight or consultation.

As a result of these considerations, CPHA recommends that:

  • The use of antimicrobials in animal agriculture be restricted to the treatment of disease under the direction of a veterinarian;
  • The use of medically-important antimicrobial compounds be prohibited in animal agriculture;
  • The “own use” provision for the importation of antimicrobial compounds in animal agriculture be rescinded from the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations; and
  • Surveillance activities be implemented to better identify the types of antimicrobial compounds used in animal agriculture and the full extent of their use.

The complete statement of concern can be obtained by contacting the policy team. CPHA looks forward to working with like-minded partners and stakeholders to advocate for the adoption of the above recommendations.

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